Rebels warn 'revolution will continue' despite key defeat
Syria's rebels have insisted that their fight to unseat Bashar al-Assad was not over, despite being crushed in the strategic town of Qusayr by a combined onslaught of regime jets, missiles and Hezbollah ground forces.
The opposition National Coalition pledged to fight on after suffering one of its most significant defeats of the war. "The blessed revolution will continue," it said. "Victory is on the side of the righteous, who resisted in the face of oppression and injustice."
Leaders threatened to take revenge on Hezbollah inside Lebanon itself.
But rebel leaders and activists on the ground admitted that their men had been overwhelmed in the south of the town and forced to withdraw through an escape corridor forged to the north.
They were under heavy bombardment in the northern side and nearby villages yesterday. "We are surrounded at the north part and in Dabaa and Buwaida, and the battle is continuing," said Basel, an activist speaking from just outside the town.
He said more than 1,000 wounded people were trapped inside the town and could not be evacuated. Three hundred were critically injured.
Ken Roth, the director of Human Rights Watch, called on Mr Assad to make good on a promise the regime made on Sunday to allow the Red Cross into the town once military operations were complete.
Rebels resisted the regime attack on Qusayr for 16 days, longer than initially expected, inflicting heavy casualties on Hezbollah fighters whose funerals have become a dramatic and unaccustomed sight in Lebanon in recent days.
But state media was triumphant in reporting the victory. "We will not hesitate to crush with an iron fist those who attack us," a statement attributed to Syrian armed forces command said. "Their fate is surrender or death. We will continue our string of victories until we regain every inch of Syrian land."
Earlier in the week, rebels had fought to recapture parts of the Dabaa military airbase north of the town, and were able to secure an exit. The regime said it had deliberately left open an escape route to encourage fighters to flee. It opened an intense bombardment on Tuesday. One activist said 30 shells were landing every minute, with more than 100 Scuds and other surface-to-surface missiles hitting during the day.
Nasser al-Nahar, the commander of the Baba Amr Rebels brigade, told this reporter from the town: "It was a massive attack and the Free Syrian Army doesn't have the capabilities to stand against such firepower. They are implementing a scorched earth policy."
Mohammed, a Qusayr activist, said: "Yesterday the regime and Hezbollah destroyed the city. The pictures on state TV are showing a totally destroyed city, a ghost city. There is no one inside, so where is their victory? They just won stones."
If the regime manages to secure the area it will have control of both the north-south and west-east supply lines in central-western Syria, allowing it to connect more easily with its forces in Aleppo and Homs and give easy access to Hezbollah reinforcements.
"He who controls Qusayr controls the centre of the country and he who controls the centre of the country controls the whole of Syria," a regime brigadier, Yahya Suleiman, said on Lebanese TV.
Gad al-Yamani, another activist, said: "The fall of Qusayr means the fall of Homs, whether we like it or not, as reinforcements will come from Lebanon easily." (© Daily Telegraph, London)